Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Essentials

Last night on Twitter, I asked a question: What games would you consider essential - required reading, if you will - for anyone who wishes to be an expert in the medium?

It started as a personal project for me. While I do a solid job of keeping up with big, important releases nowadays, there were decades when I didn't have the capacity to do that - particularly before 1990, when I was, uh, born. Since I write about video games on a regular basis, and since I seek opportunities to become more knowledgeable on the subject, I'm looking to gradually fill the gaps and catch up on all of the games throughout history that I feel it's my duty to be familiar with. If there were such a thing as a video game historian, what games would they need to play, to know about?

In just the last few years, I played through Final Fantasy X, Silent Hill 2 and Ico for the first time. Even if I hadn't wound up enjoying and respecting all three games, I'd welcome my expanded knowledge on some of the industry's most notable releases. Almost anyone would label those three games as must-plays. I missed them the first time, but I've finally rectified that.

I'm looking to do that with everything else, hence why I turned to Twitter for suggestions. But since I'm limited to 140 characters there, I didn't have the space to lay out exactly the sorts of games I'm looking for. I've come up with five categories.

1. Pioneers. These are the games that changed the industry, that made it what it is today. Games that innovated, opened new doors, left their marks on future generations. This is the most self-explanatory category; if it's a crucial piece of gaming history or has become a part of our language, it belongs on this list.

2. Trendsetters. Some of the most important releases in gaming history didn't invent the wheel so much as they popularized and standardized the wheel. Trends don't spawn out of nowhere; some game, at some point, paved a path to success, and other developers and publishers decided to capitalize on it.

3. Time-tested classics. Certain games come up in conversation constantly for no other reason than that they are held as the golden standard for their respective genres. I say "time-tested" because even the best games, if lacking any particularly distinctive or groundbreaking qualities, run the risk of being surpassed. Over two decades later, for example, no mention of history's greatest JRPGs is complete without mention of Chrono Trigger. Some games are just unbeatable.

4. Cautionary tales. "Important" is not synonymous with "good," and some of the industry's most notorious disasters and disappointments warrant just as much attention as its greatest successes, if only to understand how not to design games or treat consumers.

5. Important franchises. Many of the games on this list belong to franchises, and it's often easy to pinpoint the most noteworthy entries in a series. In the case of particularly iterative franchises, however, there's no need to get bogged down with specifics. I think any gamer worth their salt should be familiar with Pokémon, for example, but I couldn't care less which one you play. So for certain entries on this list, I'll be naming not one specific game but an entire series.

What you see below is the initial draft I've put together for a required-playing list. It's almost certainly incomplete, so if you have any suggestions for games that should be added (or removed!), bearing in mind the guidelines listed above, please send them my way on Twitter. This began as a personal project, one with which to gauge my knowledge of the medium, but I'd love for us to work together and assemble a list that anyone can use for a similar purpose.

Bear in mind that this is not about favorites. Some of the best games I've ever played have been omitted from the list. This is about the games that the community collectively agrees are the most important in understanding how the industry arrived at where it is today. It's about not being left out of the most relevant conversations.

I've played the vast majority of the games listed here. Once this is finalized, I'll pick out the games I need to catch up on, list them in a separate article, and continue to gradually post updates as I push through them.

The 7th Guest
Adventure
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Animal Crossing
Assassin's Creed series
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Beyond Good & Evil
BioShock
Bomberman series
Braid
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Chrono Trigger
Civilization series
Contra III: The Alien Wars
Command & Conquer series
Counter-Strike
Daikatana
Dark Souls
Day of the Tentacle
Deus Ex
Devil May Cry
Diablo II
Donkey Kong
Doom
Dragon Quest V
Duke Nukem Forever
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Earthbound
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
F-Zero series
Fallout: New Vegas
FIFA series
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VII
Fire Emblem series
Gain Ground
Galaga
Gears of War
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
GoldenEye
Gone Home
Gran Turismo series
Grand Theft Auto III
Grim Fandango
Guitar Hero series
Gunstar Heroes
Half-Life 2
Halo: Combat Evolved
Harvest Moon
series
Heroes of Might & Magic III
Hitman series
Ico
Indigo Prophecy
Katamari Damacy
King's Quest V
League of Legends
The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards
The Longest Journey
Madden series
Mario Kart series
Mass Effect trilogy
Mega Man 2
Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Minecraft
Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat 2
Myst
Oregon Trail
P.T.
Pac-Man
Panel de Pon
PaRappa the Rapper
Persona 4
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Pitfall
Planescape: Torment
Pokémon series
Pong
Portal
Portal 2
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Quest for Glory: So You Want to Be a Hero
Resident Evil
Resident Evil 4
River Raid
The Secret of Monkey Island
Shadow of the Colossus
Shenmue
Sid Meier's Pirates!
Silent Hill 2
SimCity series
The Sims series
Solomon's Key
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Space Invaders
Spelunky
Spider-Man 2
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars: TIE Fighter
Starcraft
Street Fighter II
Super Mario 64
Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario World
Super Metroid
Superman 64
System Shock 2
Team Fortress 2
Tecmo Super Bowl

Tetris
Thief II: The Metal Age
Tomb Raider
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Ultima VII: The Black Gate
Uncharted 2: Drake's Fortune
Undertale
VVVVVV
The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series (Season One)
Wii Sports
Wing Commander
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
World of Warcraft
X-COM: UFO Defense
Xevious
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Zork

Once more, if you have any recommendations for this list, shoot me a line at @MikeSuskie. Any feedback will be appreciated. Thanks!

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